Quick guide to Windows Mobile 6.5 - Windows Phone

Want to know what all the fuss is about? Read our quick guide to find out more about what the changes are, what they mean, and how they affect you. We'll also give you a run down of the good and bad points.

What is Windows Phone?

It's the rebranded name of Windows Mobile. As part of Microsoft's long term strategy the company has chosen to ditch the Windows Mobile title as of the release of version 6.5 and just refer to it as Windows Phone. On the one hand it's supposed to simplify the OS and extend the software to handsets such that people refer to them as Windows phones but it's also not a bad way to try to drop some of the stink surrounding what has never quite been the platform that it could be. It also helps to refer to the operating system as something in its own right like the iPhone OS rather than being a squished down, mobile version of what you get on a full size PC.

What's changed from Windows Mobile 6.1?

Sadly not as much as we'd all like. Windows Mobile 6.5 was announced back in February at Mobile World Congress but only as a stop gap while the delayed Windows Mobile 7 was put back to 2010. As a result, there is no multi-touch to keep the Windows phones up with the likes of Android, S60 and iPhone and you still have to use a stylus for certain applications. The biggest change is the GUI on the front of the system which has been simplified considerably, made much more user-friendly and more like the Zune interface. It's less fiddly and goes to an Android/iPhone/S60-like menu screen of three columns of app icons when you press start rather than folder expansion. Everything from e-mail to Bluetooth is now set up through better looking wizards and the whole thing is really targeted at users looking to make the step up from a feature phone to a smartphone. The back end of the software is largely the same.

What about apps? Do we finally get apps?

Yes indeed. Microsoft announced a codename project to go with 6.5 called SkyMarket which has in fact turned out to be the long awaited Windows Marketplace for Mobile expected to go live as the OS is launched. There are currently 731 developers working worldwide on more than 200 initial applications that will be available when the marketplace opens. Developers get a 70% cut of the profits after paying a $99 fee for a year's licence unless they're registered as students from Microsoft in which case the licence will be free.

Apps so far include a number of business solutions as well as Facebook, MySpace, Netflix, Twikini, WunderRadio, Zagat and games like Revenge of the Fallen, Sudoku, Transformers and the Pac-Man series. Browsing the Marketplace is a straight forward affair with the usual lists of genres and top sellers and the Zune-look menus also have a section for your operator's app store which is sure to please the networks if no one else.

What else?

Microsoft's mobile synching cloud service is the other main area of note which is known as My Phone. It's been in beta for 7 months but on launch users will get 200MB of storage where they can save SMS, contacts and images which they can also publish on Flickr, MySpace and Facebook straight from their phones. Much like another smartphone service out there, you'll also be able to remotely lock your phone should you lose it, locate it on a map from its last synch, send out a "please return to" message, make it ring even if on silent and, if all else fails, wipe the data. There will also be a premium service with more storage available.

The final update of significance is of the Internet Explorer mobile browser which works in a standard desktop view mode as well as a mobile format and there are other Microsoft applications you'll find on-board include Windows Live, Bing, Mobile Office Communicator and Microsoft Online Service (Exchange and SharePoint).

Good points and bad points

Well, it certainly looks better and the simplification and face lift appear to be a definite step in the right direction. The fact that 6.5 has come as a stop gap doesn't really help with the biggest disappointment of all the missing multi-touch and the fact that certain programs, such as Windows Media Player, still need the use of the stylus. HTC has added a multi-touch front to the OS but many of the applications like Explorer will still not support it. It's a fairly low cost option which should make it a competitive option for those making a step up and it will coexist in the market when Windows Phone 7 is released next year.

How do I get it

Unfortunately, you can't just upgrade your version of Windows Mobile 6.1. It would require an update of the firmware as sent by your operator who will not necessarily do this for free. Your handset might also not be able to cope with it but, of course, there are always more shady unofficial ways of making the switch yourself. For most, it will be a case of buying a specific handset. The platform will launch on the HTC Touch2 but there will also be Samsung, Sony Ericsson and Motorola Windows Phones coming soon, as well as an upgrade for the HTC Touch HD Pro.